Economic Development South continues growth in Baldwin, Brentwood, Whitehall
They opened their offices on the second floor of the Lese building on Brownsville Road with nothing but a garbage can and a stack of plans detailing suggested improvements.
Less than two years later, they have more than doubled their rented office space nestled in the rear of the building and tripled the number of staffers working for the nonprofit from one to three.
And that's just internally.
Economic Development South, a nonprofit community development corporation serving the boroughs of Brentwood, Whitehall and Baldwin and Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Carrick and Overbrook, has received more than $400,000 in funding for the area through grants in 2012, said executive director Greg Jones. Two Pittsburgh neighborhoods also joined the group which focuses on multi-municipal development and advancement within the last year and half.
The development group, which facilitates investments and reinvestments in the area, also has helped start numerous projects and multi-municipal initiatives in the area.
“We've grown tremendously. And that's in 18 months,” Jones said. “Think of what we can do in the future.”
A nonprofit started in the late 1990s to improve business development in the Brentwood area, EDS has made major strides since January 2011, when Jones was hired as the first staffer for the organization.
“As vice chairman of EDS, myself and the other board members couldn't be more proud of the work that Greg and his staff are doing, and what they've accomplished in such a short time,” said Whitehall Councilman Glenn Nagy, who serves on the EDS board.
“They've been successful in obtaining several very prestigious grants that will be used to move development projects forward that will benefit all of the communities in the South Hills.”
In the last year and a half, there has been a shift in the approach of how to improve development in the “Corridor Communities,” instead of a specific municipality.
“These municipal boundaries are intrusive,” Jones said. “Instead of making this about one community, we're taking a corridor-based approach.”
Plans in the past only had looked at specific areas and limited to set municipalities, when in reality, there is no separation for those living and operating businesses in the region, Jones said.
Problems the development group are looking to solve include improving business attraction and creating easier accessibility to the region.
“It's suburban living but urban accessibility,” Jones said. “That doesn't exist anymore.”
Improving accessibility to the area is vital. But there is no one solution that will fix the problem, Jones said.
A key to improving accessibility to the area is upgrading the mass transit system, which would lead to less cars on the road and decreased travel time, Jones said. The Route 51 and Route 88 intersection is a known problem for one road transit. Plans are under way for a PennDOT upgrade, which is set to start next year.
Economic Development South representatives have been involved in a large number of projects for improvements in the area during the last year and a half, Jones said.
EDS officials are in the process of helping to facilitate a project to redevelop Overbrook Middle School, Jones said.
A campaign also is under way to “brand” the “Corridor Communities,” uniting them as one region.
“We're looking to finally market the area in the right way,” Jones said.
Economic Development South representatives are working to create a website and have designed logos and signs that, while allowing each community to have its own identity, showcase the area as a united front.
The website, set to launch in spring 2013, will include videos and other interactive tools to showcase the area and its amenities.
“We see the possibilities as being endless,” Jones said.
Earlier this year, Stephanie Miller was hired at EDS as manager of projects and initiatives.
Miller, who previously worked in Brookline/Beechview as a community development consultant for two years and also the North Side Leadership Conference for a year and a half, is overseeing many of the day-to-day projects, including the development of a regional website.
“I'm very proud to see the neighborhoods and all that's happening,” Miller said. “It's really exciting to be a part of it.”
Of the more than $400,000 in grants that EDS has received in 2012, the largest was from the Heinz Endowment: a $120,000 grant divided over a two year period to fund a project manager staff position. A administrative assistant also was hired within the last year for EDS.
Other grants received in the last year include $60,000 from the Design Center of Pittsburgh for redevelopment efforts at a key commercial node along Brownsville Road, $50,000 from the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development for the Brownsville Road Mainstream Development; $40,000 from the City of Pittsburgh with help from Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak for transit improvements at the Route 51/Route 88 intersection; $25,000 from the URA for Pittsburgh for technical assistance for Brownsville Road project including a designation of the corridor as one of only three C.O.R.E. (Corridors of Retail Excellence) areas in the region; a grant for 29 trees for Brentwood Park from TreeVitalize; $17,000 from the Local Government Academy for Route 51 Overlay District; and $20,000 from Penn State Center for bioswales to be added along Route 51.
Support from the contributing communities has been monumental in the success of Economic Development South, Jones said. And the communities are getting what they pay for with about a $7 in funding returned for every $1 they invest into the development group, Jones said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.